6/1/2017 3:45:00 PM WATCH: St. Francis Park Apartments an antidote to high rent
Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
Archbishop Alexander Sample prays in blessing in the courtyard of the St. Francis Park Apartments in Southeast Portland. The project is a haven of affordable rent in a neighborhood with soaring housing costs.
The 106-unit St. Francis Park Apartments are a haven of affordable rent in a neighborhood with soaring housing costs. Space will be offered to people transitioning from homelessness and escaping domestic violence.
Curtis Tice, 64, has been living in a shelter near the Hawthorne Bridge. The former bus driver, grocery store clerk and cabinet maker considers his new one-bedroom unit on the bright third floor of the St. Francis Park Apartments “beautiful and secure, a place to call my own.”
Doug Smith, 67, will be Tice’s neighbor. Smith had a small room in outer East Portland and rode his bicycle an hour to his job as parish musician for St. Francis Parish. Now he’ll have a two-minute walk to the Southeast Portland church.
The parish — with help from Catholic Charities and city officials — transformed a small park on its grounds into a 106-unit apartment building with rents that will not ride Portland’s housing-cost rocket.
“The apartments will be housing for people who staff the shops, the restaurants and coffee bars that make the neighborhood and the city a great place to be,” said Valerie Chapman, longtime pastoral administrator of St. Francis Parish. “They will be home to people who have retired on a low income, people just starting out, those re-entering the job market and those who haven’t yet reached their earning potential or just need a little more help.”
Chapman was speaking May 17 at a blessing in the courtyard of the complex. About 15 years ago, many parishioners found they could no longer afford rents in the Buckman neighborhood. Homeless people who came for a meal at the parish dining hall spent years on waiting lists for subsidized housing.
“Many of us have struggled with the cost of housing in Portland. It has touched everyone,” said Ali O’Neill, principal of O’Neill Construction, which teamed up with Walsh Construction on the project. “There is lot of market-rate housing going up in central Portland, so it’s nice to balance that out with some affordable housing.”
The Portland Housing Bureau kicked in $3 million and tax credits provided $9 million. Federal housing grants added up to $4 million. Builders found ways to proceed without excavation and built in straight, clean lines to keep costs down.
“My guess is that we are going to have low-income people from all over apply to live here,” said Father Robert Krueger, priest moderator of the parish. He hopes residents and parishioners might join forces to advocate for more affordable housing in the city.
City officials praised the partnership with religious institutions.
“Our mission in life is to provide affordable housing for this community. However, we can’t do that without partners,” said Jim Smith, board chairman of Home Forward, the housing authority for Multnomah County.
Archbishop Alexander Sample also lauded the collaboration, saying it shows that civic and religious groups in Portland consider some things more important than their disagreements.
“This complex will stand as a permanent monument to the gift of mercy,” the archbishop said, noting that the project emerged during the church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy. Safe housing, Archbishop Sample said, is a way to respect human dignity.
Caritas Housing Initiatives, a part of Catholic Charities of Oregon, has developed more than 500 units for low-income families in western Oregon in the past two decades.
The St. Francis Park Apartments will serve men and women moving from life on the streets. Some units will house victims of domestic violence.